Can I ever thank God sufficiently for getting for me, out of his infinite goodness, help such as this precisely at the most difficult time of life, a decisive time for me, in which were planted by a man of God, in my soul prepared by his skillful hand and the grace of the Holy Spirit whose instrument he was, the fundamentals of religion and piety on which the mercy of God has built the structure of my spiritual life?
Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI
Looking back on the nearly four years that Eugene spent in Venice under the guidance of Don Bartolo, we can recognize many foundations of what would become the spirituality of Eugene de Mazenod – and eventually the foundations of the spirituality of the wider Mazenodian family.
Bartolo Zinelli entered into the situation of Eugene, teaching him that by being close to people and creating a loving environment, people can be transformed. As a companion and guide to this adolescent, he was instrumental in his HUMAN development. In doing so he gave Eugene a model on how to evangelize by entering into the human situation of people and walking with them.
Don Bartolo was “able to rescue this rudderless young boy from Provence from the worldly Venetian milieu with its very low ideals… Eugene found the peaceful atmosphere necessary for his studies and a serious religious and moral formation.” (Pielorz , The Spiritual Life… p.64). Through this, Eugene developed as a CHRISTIAN, and would dedicate his life to awakening or re-awakening people to their dignity as Christians.
By being a spiritual director, Don Bartolo awakened in Eugene a desire to be heroic and to be generous in his relationship with God. He helped Eugene to aim to be a SAINT, and taught him the means to do so.
In his youth ministry in Aix, several years later, Eugene aimed to be another Bartolo Zinelli to the young people. What he had received in his adolescence he wished to communicate to them. In a wider way, the seeds planted and nurtured by Don Bartolo were to bloom in the program and method that Eugene adopted for himself and gave to us in our Rule of Life:
We must lead men to act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians,
and, finally, we must help them to become saints.
1818 Rule, Part One, Chapter One, §3. Nota Bene.
Here we find the dominant and recurring theme of Mazenodian spirituality: the method to be used to see and respond to the world through the eyes of Christ the Savior.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” Muhammad Ali